The challenge of addressing NGOM hypoxia goes beyond the mandate and resources of any individual government agency. The current framework of mainly voluntary coordination of actions and programs, although useful for promoting dialogue and raising awareness of water quality issues, has not realized substantive accomplishments in terms of on-the-ground implementation or documented improvements in water quality. Lasting solutions to Mississippi River basin and northern Gulf of Mexico water quality problems will require stronger inter-agency collaboration and sustained support from the Administration and the U.S. Congress than have been exhibited to date.
Several recommendations from the 2008 and 2009 NRC reports provide opportunities to establish stronger inter-agency cooperation and federal leadership. Those recommendations include, for example, creating a water quality data sharing system for the length of the Mississippi River (NRC, 2008) and establishing a Mississippi River Water Quality Center (NRC, 2009). All these examples offer opportunities for EPA, USDA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the USGS, and NOAA to work collaboratively on a variety of scientific, administrative, technical, and institutional issues. The 2008 NRC report noted the importance of interstate cooperation, recommending that the lower Mississippi River corridor states (Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee) create an entity similar to the Upper Mississippi River Basin Association (UMRBA; NRC, 2008). The experiences in water quality assessment and management in the Chesapeake Bay also may provide insights about implementing and carrying out relevant interagency arrangements and interstate agreements. Interstate compacts and river basin commissions have proven useful in addressing water quality issues in some U.S. river systems, such as the Ohio and the Susquehanna Rivers. The 2008 NRC report listed principles for interstate cooperation for water quality management, while noting the challenges involved in developing and establishing these types of programs (NRC, 2008). That 2008 report also discussed interstate arrangements other than compacts for addressing water quality challenges, such as the UMRBA.
None of these initiatives would be easily implemented, inexpensive, or promise immediate results. All of them, however, are examples of the type of stronger inter-agency collaboration that will be necessary to more effectively address water quality problems across the basin and into the NGOM.
The EPA, its partner federal agencies, the Congress, the Administration, and the Mississippi River basin states should provide a stronger, more coordinated commitment in order to develop long-term, adaptive, collaborative actions for effectively addressing water quality problems across the MRB and into the NGOM.